Why Begin with Chickens?
A beginners guide to chickens. Bumnuts, cackleberries, hen fruit, chicken seeds, liquid chicken, goog’s ……. your chicken egg. A wonderful source of food to so many. Chickens are a 2 for one deal, hens produce yummy eggs and the excess roosters…. well, Sunday roast.
So you want to be self-sufficient, and that means chickens are a great way to start. You don’t even need to be living your homestead or small farm dream to get a mini flock of girls. Most people (and you would need to check with your local council) can keep a couple of hens in the backyard with no issues. I think a couple of hens would be great for my gym junkie friends. I’ve seen how much protein you all consume, and eggs are a great source of that.
So what do you need to know to have your very own bum nut producers? A secure area, food, water and health care.
A Secure Area
Chickens need to be kept safe and secure, like all livestock, they can cause havoc in traffic. They can cause neighbors to hate you and they are at risk around dogs if the dogs are not familiar with chickens. Chickens can fly, so fencing must be high enough to prevent escapees. If you find you have a persistent hen, you can clip their wings to stop the Amelia Earhart of your flock.
Dogs are the biggest concern to urban chooks, and foxes to rural ones. Even though my flock was behind fences I have lost 1 hen to a fox (and the rooster got hurt in the process of trying to protect her) More recently I lost 2 hens to a local Silkie Terrier which was distressing. Especially as even though caught in the act, the owners refused to accept their dog did the killing. Most country people will say once a dog gets the taste for the blood they will continue to attack. In fact, most will put a dog down once it kills any livestock. Urban dogs are less likely to be “chicken aware” so the safest bet is to keep them in a predator-proof yard.
Your flock also needs a dry, weatherproof place to sleep and lay their eggs. If you don’t provide it they will find their own nesting area, and it may not be somewhere you can get to easy. At MH we have a lovely lady by the name of Penny who insists on laying under a thorny bush, making every egg collection a nightmare.
Chickens are great scrap devourers however it is important to understand the nutrients needed to produce eggs. Both your hens and egg supply will suffer if your girls live on a diet of scraps alone.
Don’t get me wrong, they are a great source of converting food scraps into eggs. However to ensure optimum health its a good idea to feed commercial layer pellet type feed. This will cover essential nutrients that they require to produce good quality eggs while also help keep your hens in tip-top shape.
You can buy organic brands however they are more expensive, if you are aiming for a completely organic diet for those eating the eggs, then you need to stick with the organic feed. Also, they need to be feed age-appropriate mixes, so don’t feed baby chicks layer pellets, when they really need chick starter.
Commercial layer pellets can also contain antibiotics and coccidiostats (more on this in health) so you need to be aware if you are opposed to the use of broad-range antibiotics in your livestock feed.
All chickens need grit in their diets, sold as shell grit, it is vital for chickens to assist in breaking up the food they consume, as they have no teeth the grit does the job for them.
Unlike their cousins the ducks, your chickens won’t want a bath in water. However, producing bumnuts does require adequate hydration. It goes without saying that all animals need access to clean water. In the hotter months, they will consume a lot. On extremely hot days I have made a “chicksicle” by putting corn kernels in water and freezing it.
Your hens will appreciate the ice and get a tasty treat as they peck through their ice block.
If you live in a frost-prone area, don’t forget to crack the ice on their water trough on the cold mornings, so they can still access clean drinking water.
No one likes it when their pets and livestock are unwell. Chickens who have warm coops, good food, and clean water can still become sick. Unfortunately, some illnesses are untreatable and some, even with treatment, will still kill your hen.
Buying vaccinated day old chicks or point of lay hens is the best method of reducing diseases like Marek’s, however, some can’t be vaccinated against, like coccidiostats. However, you can give medication in water to help lessen the effects and prevent some spreading.
The most important point is to separate any bird that appears unwell until you can identify the problem. In a coop environment illness will go through the flock very quickly.
I hope this has been a help to anyone considering branching out into chickens. They certainly add so much to our little homestead. And with our new girls not long arrived, we can’t wait to show you all their photos.